Here on ApMtn, rarely do we run into kids called Maia-Jai or Oliver-William. Perhaps that’s because few people actually go through with the insanity of hyphenating two first names together to create a Frankenstein of a baby name.
Or perhaps it’s because, in common use, it is quite difficult to make a “double-barreled” name stick. They’re a database nightmare. In fact, common double names like Mary Anne, Mary Beth and Mary Jane don’t appear in the Social Security’s Top 1000 names list, doubtless because they’re all counted under Mary.
Could an insistent parent torture their local school district into compliance? Sure, some of the time. But why would you?
Let’s begin with the origin of the term. According to Wikipedia, a double-barreled shotgun is a shotgun with two parallel barrels, allowing two shots to be fired in quick succession. Possibly this is helpful when hunting grouse.
As a naming convention, it came into use to describe aristocratic surnames like Linley-Stewart. Without the hyphen, Linley is simply another middle name and Stewart is the surname; with the hyphen, the legal last name is Linley-Stewart. Apparently, there were any number of reasons to do this – to keep a family name from dying out, or to allow a well born woman to maintain her prestigious maiden name before the days when referring to someone as Abby Rockefeller Simpson or Kathleen Kennedy Townsend became common practice.
Because double-barreled personal names don’t appear in databases, it’s tough to know when, or how often, they are bestowed. As with Mary Jane, many may simply be given as a first and middle name and routinely used together. And that’s usually fine. If you want to name your daughter Ava Grace and call her Ava Grace, by all means. But here are a few arguments against double-barreling your child’s first name.
- Hyphen headaches: Just like Rogue Punctuation, hyphens don’t appear in databases. Having your child’s name acknowledged as Oliver-William will be an ongoing challenge, at school, at the doctor’s office and so on. While it’s a minor irritation, it’s not one that goes away. Every new bureaucracy requires another tangle. Still, I don’t think a little red tape should be a dealbreaker.
- Three-syllable limit: Listen to names called on a playground. It’s exceedingly rare to hear kids called – by their teachers or their peers – by more than three syllables. Call your daughter Allegra, and she may or may not find herself nicknamed Ally. But name her Anastasia, and odds are good that she’ll be Ana, Stacy or Stasia in public. Christen her Anastasia-Olivia and it’s a lock that she’ll be known by a nickname.
- Ersatz princess alert: Speaking of Anastasia-Olivia, it’s a rather burdensome name to wear. If your child is the heir to a small European kingdom, you may certainly insist her loyal subjects spit out all eight syllables as they curtsy and tug their forelocks. If she’s a mere mortal, such a lengthy moniker will hang like an oversized ballgown, dragging her down.
- Still common, after all these sounds: One of the arguments for double-barreling appears to be rescuing a Top Ten name. If you love Ava, but fret that your daughter will be one of many, why not call her Ava-Grace, Ava-Jai or Ava-Mae? On the one hand, it will spare your child from being known by a random appellation – Ava B. or Tall Ava, for example. But it’s not foolproof, and by the time you’ve called out Ava, four small heads have already swiveled in your direction. Better to choose another name.
- Classy? Not so much: Some contend that Sarah-Elise is a name dripping with sophistication. True, the French-fried flavor of a classic compound name like Marie-Claire can have some appeal. But in the US, names like these feel like they’re trying too hard. Stick with Marie Claire, or better still, Mary Claire. The sound is fresh and upbeat, and far better suited to a future corporate exec or district attorney than the double-barreled version.
So the rule of thumb here at ApMtn? Better two middle names than a double-barreled first.